A 51-year-old maintenance fitter worked at a bakery for about 20 years. He did not smoke or have any history of asthma before he started work.
He complained of breathlessness, wheezing and coughing. This had been getting gradually worse during the past 15 years.
At work, his eyes often became red and watery. He had sneezing attacks. His symptoms were not affected by the season of the year. But he noticed that they improved when he was away from work.
A chest physician had previously diagnosed the fitter with asthma but had not connected this with his work. It was the trade union representative who suspected occupational asthma.
A series of tests showed that his lung function was considerably better at weekends and on holiday. Further tests indicated a flour dust allergy.
As a result of these investigations, management arranged for him to work in less dusty areas of the plant. They improved the dust extraction and issued him with a suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
He remains at work using a RPE to reduce his exposure, and medicine to improve his symptoms. However, his general respiratory health is poor because of chronic asthma, for which he receives disablement benefit.
Investigations revealed that this was not the only victim. Two further cases of flour dust allergy were detected.
These workers have better health, because their developing asthmas were picked up more quickly. However, they still need medication to control their symptoms. And they are likely to suffer from breathing problems for the rest of their lives.